Dr. Benjamin Spock was renowned for his theories on intuitive parenting and his anti-war positions.
Benjamin McLane Spock was born May 2, 1903, in New Haven, Connecticut, to Benjamin Ives Spock and Mildred Louise Stoughton. Benjamin was the oldest child and helped in the care of his younger siblings. The Spock household was a very strict one, and in later years, Benjamin referenced it in saying he still felt the need to shake off the rigidity of those early years.
Spock's freshman year at Yale
Benjamin was a large man, standing 6 feet 4 inches tall with broad shoulders. He was considered charming and warm with a gentle face and eyes.
Benjamin attended private prep schools, and went on to attend Yale University, studying English Literature. He started attending medical school at Yale, but later transferred to Columbia.
Benjamin was a member of the US rowing team in the Paris Olympics in 1924. The team won an Olympic gold medal. Benjamin would continue to row his entire life.
Benjamin Spock and Jane Davenport Cheney were married in 1927. Jane helped Benjamin with his research for his book. Benjamin and Jane had two sons, Michael and John. They divorced in 1976.
Benjamin next married Mary Morgan, in 1976. She had worked as an assistant for him. They remained married the rest of his life.
Dr. Spock practiced as a physician, taught pediatric medicine at Cornell University and child psychology at Case Western University, and liaised with the New York City Health department on matters of pediatric psychiatry. He would also serve as a medical officer in the Navy during World War II. Around 1943, he started writing his book. He was the author and/or co-author of 13 books, but none were as popular as his Baby and Childcare book. He also wrote articles for women's magazines.
Benjamin was the first pediatrician to psychoanalyze children's needs within a family. This led to his belief that parents "knew more than they thought" and he encouraged them to trust themselves and be more relaxed in how they raised their children. His motto was always to "do what's right". He thoroughly enjoyed his time with his young patients.
Dr. Spock published his views on childcare and parenting in his book, Dr. Spock's Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care in 1946. He revised the book a number of times, in order to keep current on medical findings, to update his own changing viewpoints, including equality in the roles of parents, single parents, and non-traditional parenting, while also incorporating other cultural changes. Later editions were co-authored by Dr. Steven J Parker.
The main message remained the same, though:
Babies are fragile and need love and connection.
As they grow, guidance should rule over strict discipline.
Trust your instincts. You know your child even better than your doctor does, and a doctor will not always be nearby.
Routines are nice, but don't be inflexible. Trust your child-children will let you know what they need.
At the time of his death, the book had sold more than 50 million copies in 42 languages. The book led to Dr. Spock being a household name, and children often being called "Spock babies", which could be a good or bad thing depending on the context.
Benjamin was an activist, pushing for peace in concern for what wars do to children. This concern started as early as his time in World War II.
Benjamin was a co-chair for SANE, an organization dedicated to stopping nuclear testing in 1962. He was worried about what the radiation was doing to children. The next year, he also advocated for Medicare for older citizens. He was not on good terms with the American Medical Association, in part due to his popularity in mainstream culture.
He was part of anti-Vietnam War protests during the 1960's and early 1970's, while his books were being criticized by Vietnam War supporters who believed his parenting advice had ruined children and was part of the problem with anti-war protesters. Benjamin and his wife, Mary, were arrested on several occasions for civil disobedience associated with their beliefs.
Benjamin was put on trial in 1968 for conspiracy for his anti-war efforts and his encouragement of young people in avoiding the draft. He was convicted, but the verdict was set aside on a technicality.
In 1972, he ran for President of the United States on the People's Party ticket, a liberal organization. In 1976, he was a Vice Presidential candidate on the same party's ticket.
Benjamin suffered from chronic bronchitis and would fall victim to a stroke in 1989. That same year, he and Mary completed and published his autobiography, Spock on Spock.
Dr. Benjamin McLane Spock died of pneumonia at his home in La Jolla, California on March 15, 1998. His ashes are buried in Seaview Cemetery, Rockport, Maine. His work lives on in the sales of his book and many generations of parents who chose a more relaxed, intuitive approach to raising their children.
↑ "United States Census, 1920," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MCNX-QQD : accessed 27 April 2017), Benjamin N Spock in household of Benjamin J Spock, New Haven Ward 9, New Haven, Connecticut, United States; citing ED 365, sheet 9A, line 25, family 182, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), roll 191; FHL microfilm 1,820,191.
↑ "United States Census, 1910," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MK22-7CK : accessed 27 April 2017), Benjamin Mcl Spock in household of Benjamin I Spock, New Haven Ward 8, New Haven, Connecticut, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 410, sheet 4A, family 82, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 139; FHL microfilm 1,374,152.
↑ "New York Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island), 1892-1924," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JN4R-DZK : 6 December 2014), Benjamin McLane Spock, 01 Aug 1924; citing departure port Cherbourg, France, arrival port New York, ship name Resolute, NARA microfilm publication T715 and M237 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
↑ "United States Census, 1930," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:X4P9-35N : accessed 27 April 2017), Benjamin M Spock, Manhattan (Districts 1001-1249), New York, New York, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 1081, sheet 4A, line 36, family 123, NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002), roll 1579; FHL microfilm 2,341,314.
↑ "United States Census, 1940," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KQTF-BF4 : accessed 27 April 2017), Benjamin Spock, Assembly District 15, Manhattan, New York City, New York, New York, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 31-1341, sheet 5B, line 45, family 123, Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 - 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012, roll 2655.